In Session: Dan Berggren
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Releasing “Peace Begins in My Own Heart,” on May 2nd, Dan Berggren has taken a classic folk song, “Wayfaring Stranger,” and brought to light numerous issues that plague our world today. A measure of an effective folk-singer, Berggren’s lyrics easily call to attention the ears of those that listen, building a song around the “golden rule,” a rule regardless of religion or creed that dictates one should do unto others as they’d have done unto them. Playing all instruments on the recording, as well as singing, Berggren has created a very accessible, and enjoyable song to listen to.
Over the week, I had a chance to sit down with Dan to discuss the song, as well as his creative influences, and more! Continue reading to learn more about the artist.
Lucas Garrett: Thanks, Dan, for your time today talking about your newest release. In a world mired in chaos, what drove you to this particular song? It’s quite a classic.
Dan Berggren: In 2003, at the beginning of the war in Iraq, a friend asked if I knew any songs about the Golden Rule – which is part of every major world religion. I looked through all my records and songbooks and couldn’t find one that addressed “do unto others as you’d have them do unto you” so I wrote new lyrics to the tune Wayfaring Stranger. I had already learned an important songwriting lesson from Pete Seeger, who learned from Woody Guthrie, who learned from Joe Hill: put new words to a familiar tune and you’re halfway there to getting an audience to feel comfortable enough to sing along.
LG: It seems the more things that change in this world, the more they, unfortunately, stay the same. With the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, this song breathes a terribly sobering awareness into my ears when I heard it. As a folk artist, you know one of the mainstays of the genre is bringing attention to unsightly matters. In this new era of music, do you feel the role of a folksinger is exceedingly harder? It seems like there’s no end in sight for material to mine from.
DB: I feel the role of a folksinger is first to pay attention to his/her surroundings and write about them. It starts with home, family, and friends, then extends to the community, region, state, country, and the earth. Once in a while, a song that starts out as a personal story, whether love or tragedy, can connect with those far removed from the original situation. In fact, that’s a challenge I gladly accept whenever writing a song that grows out of a personal experience or observation. (For example, in Peace Begins in My Own Heart, the first verse is personal (“I am a poor”), the second connects me with the listener (“with courage, we will walk together”) and the final verse is directed to every listener (“are you a poor”).
LG: I really like the way you explained that, Dan. You mentioned Pete Seeger earlier, along with some other artists. Who are some of your main influences in music, in terms of folk genres, as well as any other artists or bands that have really inspired you?
DB: Pete is certainly number one in my book – as a person and as a performer. His passion for having an audience participate continues to be an inspiration – because it doesn’t end with singing along. If we can get a room full of people singing together, the odds are better for having them work together in other ways as well – from civic efforts to environmental causes. Having been exposed to Pete’s music and that of the Weavers, Woody Guthrie, and Leadbelly at an early age has put all other music into perspective. Two other folksingers who’ve had a significant impact on me are Tom Rush who sings songs because they’re good stories regardless of who wrote them or how old they are; and Stan Rogers who wrote universal songs of people, places, history, hard work, and relationships.
LG: Where can we see you out and about? Do you have any upcoming shows?
DB: James Gascoyne, Oona Grady and I are singing on Sunday, May 22 at Noon as part of a city-wide Caffé Lena event in Saratoga; I’ll be at Old Songs June 24-26 with Jamcrackers (Dan Duggan, Peggy Lynn, and me); all over the Adirondacks throughout the summer; and back at Caffé Lena with Jamcrackers on Friday, August 12th. [There’s a concert calendar on my website www.berggrenfolk.com ] For the rest of May, every Tuesday at 10:30 AM James Gascoyne, Oona Grady, and I are at Caffé Lena doing a half-hour show for pre-schoolers. It’s called Folk Club Kids and is both online and in-person. We even recorded a Folk Club Kid CD that is available at Caffé Lena.
LG: Is there anything we may have missed that you’d like to discuss before we wrap the interview up?
DB: In 1975, I got out of the army and returned to my home in the Adirondacks – a farm that had been in the family for five generations. My first songs were about the local people and places I knew. Then my roots spread beyond the farm to all of the Adirondacks and my songs reflected that growth. Now I write about the environment, taking care of our planet and each other.
LG: It’s been a pleasure, man! Thanks again!
DB: Thanks for taking the time to ask these thoughtful questions!